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Some advocates saying drug use in Moncton has reached a 'time of crisis'

A frontline worker who deals with Moncton’s vulnerable population said Friday the city is in a “time of crisis” when it comes to drug use and overdoses.

Shannon Barry is the senior director of Community Outreach for the YMCA of Greater Moncton.

She lives close to a harm reduction centre and has responded to numerous overdoses after hours.

“There was one this week earlier that I responded to where I went up and the individual was blue, was not breathing, did not have a pulse and I had to do CPR,” said Barry.

She admits it’s very hard to deal with.

“You just have to focus on the positive outcome. That is, someone is alive and they're breathing, but it's very disheartening to see the same individuals come across the same barriers and continually overdosing,” said Barry.

Things are so bad that first responders are getting up to 10 overdose calls a day.

Recovering substance user Rebecca Riley called Moncton’s drug problem “terrible” and has saved her share of people from overdose as well.

“Basically right now we have one safe injection site and there’s a lot of nimby-ism. Not in my back yard,” said Riley.

Both women discussed the merits of decriminalizing the simple possession of illegal substances.

The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) has released a report calling for all criminal penalties associated with possession of illegal substances to be removed from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

In a news release, the CPA said it “strongly recommends” the quantity of personal use should be made in consultation with governments, health care professionals and law enforcement with people who have lived and are living with substance use.

Barry believes decriminalization would go a long way to reducing stigma which is a large barrier for people accessing care.

“And it recognizes that substance use disorder and the current climate regarding substance use,” said Barry. “It's not a criminal issue, it's a public health concern.”

Riley said a few things would happen if narcotics were decriminalized.

“You're going to certainly see a little bit of ease on our criminal justice system so you're not going to be seeing a lot of addicts in jail, which is not a good place for addicts, they should actually be in rehab,” said Riley.

Riley added that in order for it to work, the amount of what is decriminalized is key.

“If you’re going to decriminalize a small amount I don’t think it’s necessarily going to work because you’re going to have users going to dealers multiple times throughout the day,” said Riley.

But will it reduce overdoses? Barry thinks so.

“By decriminalizing it, I feel like we’re getting closer to a safe supply,” said Barry. “As long as we have a toxic drug supply, there’s no way to know what they’re using or what they’re ingesting.”

Jamie Livingston, an associate professor at the Department of Criminology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, said he supports the legalization and regulation of all drugs.

“Embarking on more humane policy approaches to regulating drugs and their potential risks is a sensible and responsible way forward, as has recently been urged by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights,” said Livingston in an email.

Livingston said society has endured over 100 years of increasingly punitive drug prohibition policies that have devastated communities, depleted public coffers, and increased the power of criminal organizations.

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